German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny on the second anniversary of an attempt on his life by poisoning and denounced Russia's repression of freedom of speech.
In a video message on Saturday, Mr Scholz said he had spoken to Navalny during his recovery in a Berlin hospital and found him to be a brave man who wanted to return to Russia to fight for democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
On his return, however, Navalny — President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic inside Russia — was immediately imprisoned.
“The war that Russia started against Ukraine is a war that also has consequences for Russia,” Mr Scholz said. “Freedom and democracy were already endangered before. But now, freedom of expression is much more endangered and many fear to say their own opinion.”
That was why it was so important to remember Navalny, Mr Scholz added, as he was fighting for his belief that “one lives best in a democracy and state governed by the rule of law”.
Navalny is serving an 11½ year sentence after being found guilty of parole violations and fraud and contempt of court charges.
He claimed all the charges were fabricated as a pretext to jail him and thwart his political ambitions.
Navalny, 46, returned to Russia in 2021 from Germany where he had been treated for what western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him in Siberia with a Soviet-era nerve agent. Russia denies trying to kill him.
It comes as Mr Scholz gets ready to embark on a three day tour of Canada as he attempts to improve the relationship between Berlin and Ottawa.
Mr Scholz is joined by Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck on what is believed to be the first Canada-only trip by a German chancellor.
During the trip, Mr Scholz and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are expected to sign a hydrogen accord, paving the way for a clean fuel supply chain between Germany and Canada.
The idea is for wind energy produced in Canada's Atlantic Provinces to be turned into green hydrogen, cooled to very low temperatures and shipped to Germany's northern coast.
On Friday, Russian state energy company Gazprom said it will halt gas supplies to Europe for three days at the end of the month through its main pipeline into the region.
The unscheduled maintenance order on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany, intensifies a standoff over energy between Moscow and Brussels which has helped to send inflation surging in the region and raised the risk of rationing and recession.
Gazprom said the three-day shutdown was because the pipeline's only remaining gas compressor requires maintenance, yet the move will bring further disruption particularly for Germany, which depends largely on deliveries from Moscow to power its industry.